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Cordillera: The country’s frontier for sports adventure
by Harley Palangchao

When the Department of Tourism  announced it aims to carve out a niche in the country’s sports adventure industry in the Cordillera, there was no doubt the plan would become successful owing to the region’s sought-after mountains, temperate climate, rugged terrains, and clean bodies of water.

Long before this plan was conceptualized, Benguet and Mountain Province have already hosted international sports activities and local events, which made an impact on the national sports scene.

The Asia-Pacific edition of The North Face 100 (TNF 100), an international ultra-run event with top runners around the world as participants, made Baguio and Benguet as its home base after organizers saw how the number of runners increased year after year since it was launched in 2010.

Organizers chose Baguio for the launching of TNF 100 because the mountains offer challenging trails that also opened to magnificent panoramic views of valleys and peaks. There is also the fact that it is a tourist haven because of its cool weather.

At one time, TNF100 organizers opted to hold the event in Bukidnon, a mountainous province in Southern Mindanao, but this did not get the same enthusiasm as reflected by the leaner number of participants compared with the runs held in Baguio.

There is also the Philippine International Skyrace or Akyathlon organized by the Philippine Skyrunning Association (PSA) in 2012, this time in Mt. Ugo, Itogon. Mt. Ugo is the highest peak between Itogon and Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya.

Its launch was a resounding success with over a hundred runners from the region and other parts of the country, including foreigners, joining the race. Perhaps because it was almost similar to the Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon in Malaysia, already familiar and popular among runners and mountaineers.

The PSA Mount Ugo annual event continues to draw foreign runners from as far as Africa, and for this the PSA is making Benguet its home for their events.

DOT Sec. Ramon Jimenez Jr. also extolled the PSA “for promoting Mt. Ugo as a major hiking destination and for bringing ecotourism, nature and adventure tourism in the Philippines on a global scale.”

“With the event’s successful staging and the sports’ increasing popularity, we shall work for an annual competition here because we now believe that skyrunning at Mt. Ugo can be number 1 for fun and it’s more fun in the Philippines,” the DOT secretary said in a statement.

Marathon on Mt. Pulag

Early this month, Benguet also witnessed the successful staging of the Cordillera Marathon, this time in Mt. Pulag, the third highest peak in the country reaching 2,972 meters above sea level.

The event is the highest trail marathon in the country today, according to the Cordillera Conservation Trust, organizer of the event. The excitement of the marathon was from the fact that over 60 percent of the 42K marathon course was 2,000 meters above sea level and 100 percent of the 11K trail run course was above 2,000m.

Participants had a day full of fun as they traversed the majestic grasslands of dwarf bamboo and ran above the clouds racing towards the summit of Mount Pulag.

The fun started at the Mt. Pulag Ranger Station in Babadak, Kabayan, to the villages of Balete, Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya, and through Dango, Tinoc, Ifugao before the ascent through the mossy forest ridge on the north eastern side of the mountain before emerging on the grassland plateau on the path heading to the summit then back to the finish line at the Ranger Station.

White water river rafting in Kalinga

Ten hours away from Baguio is the world famous white water river rafting along the mighty Chico River in Kalinga.

Since the first commercial descent on the Chico River in 1997, the whitewater rafting by the Chico River Quest offers adrenaline-pumping and extreme sports adventure to anyone.
Chico River Quest says on its website that it pioneered the adventure water sports of whitewater rafting and kayaking, having made the first descent of Kalinga rivers by Tao Berman, the Guinness Book of World Records holder of having kayaked the highest water fall.

From the river to majestic rice terraces

Last year, Team Malaya invited runners and outdoor enthusiasts to explore the beauty and wonder of the Ifugao Rice Terraces in the Rice Terraces Marathon in Hungduan town, a World Heritage site.

With the success of the event, organizers will stage its second edition on May 17 with participants passing through Hapao, Hungduan, run through hot and cold springs, Spanish trails, and waterfalls.

Before her new assignment as tourism director for San Francisco, California and West Canada, former DOT regional director, Purificacion Molintas already recognized and promoted the potentials of the Cordillera for sports adventure tourism.

“Sports and adventure events such as marathons are fast becoming popular especially with the younger generation. In the different parts of the country, trekking and mountain climbing areas are fast becoming tourism events,” she said.

Outdoor events such as the hike by itself to tourism spots and on old trails have become an integral part of the major activities during municipal or provincial events in the region in the past five years.

In 2012, the mystic town of Sagada, Mountain Province also had top local and visiting bikers competing in the mountain trail bike races dubbed “Mayhem in Sagada.”

The cool climate and pine-scented air were the key factors that lured dozens of bikers who admitted to have experienced a memorable adventure compared with competing in the lowlands.

For the nth time, two of the country’s prestigious cycling events, Le Tour de Filipinas and Ronda Pilipinas, with local, national and international cycling teams participating, made Benguet and Baguio as the final leg of the competition.

Winners of the last leg, which was a test of agility and durability with cyclists negotiating the long winding roads up to Baguio, were conferred the sought-after King of the Mountain trophy.

Cordillera – home to half of the country’s highest peaks

The region’s mountainous topography characterized by towering peaks, plateaus, and intermittent patches of valleys is what beckons outdoors adventurers, hikers and mountain climbers to keep coming back to the Cordillera.

Mount Pulag, said to be the playing ground of the great ancestors of Kankana-eys, Ibaloys and Kalanguyas, believed to be living in the shadows of the mountain, remains to be the most sought-after peak in the region, although seasoned outdoor adventurers love to explore other challenging mountains in the region that require intense physical training and mental preparation.

These mountains and peaks that keep luring adventure lovers include the Bakun trio of Mt. Lobo, Mt. Tenglawan, and Mt. Kabunian in Benguet; and Mt. Tagpew and Mt. Tagpaya in Kibungan.

Mountain Province is also visited for Mt. Amuyao in Barlig and Mt. Kalawitan in Sabangan while Ifugao is famous for Mt. Napulawan.

Apayao, on the other hand, is being considered as the last frontier for eco adventure destinations with European backpackers who love to explore the natural beauty of the province.

From the list of 30 highest peaks in the country, at least 14 are located within the Cordillera mountain range, according to the Pinoy Mountaineer, an online guide to mountaineering and hiking in the country.

Culture, nature keep Cordillera distinct

The Cordillera is distinct because despite these influences and intrusions from outside their domain, the six provinces have somehow preserved their mountains and nature spots, which are also considered ideal for sports adventure. Before they are tourist spots, they are a source of life for them, as they take their sustenance from nature. Their traditions based on spiritual beliefs serve as buffer against the exploitation and abuse of these natural resources.

While the government, through the DOT and partners from the private sector, has been aggressive in promoting the Cordillera, respect for people and their culture that revolves around these sought-after rice terraces, caves and mountains is of paramount consideration.

Cordillerans’ high regard for their culture and care for the environment was brought to fore when professional wakeskaters Brian Grubb of the United States and Dominik Preisner of Germany came for a wakeskate session in October 2013, right in the heart of the historic Banaue Rice Terraces, another World Heritage Site in Ifugao.

Wakeskating is similar to wakeboarding, a popular water sport except that users are not bound to the board.

While the wakeskate session gained worldwide views on YouTube, such activity drew the ire of conservationists and other concerned sectors, who believed it was not appropriate and out of place.

Despite the claim of organizers of the event who said that their stunt in the ancient terraces was with permission from tribal leaders, conservationists still argued that the Ifugao Rice Terraces is a world heritage property primarily for food production and with spiritual attachments. Consent from the descendants of the great ancestors who carved the terraces should not be used as an excuse.

The wakeskating stunt in Banaue should be used as a reference for future activities in any other tourism spots with historical and cultural value.

There is now no turning back in making the Cordillera famous for adventure sports such as mountain runs especially after the TNF100 and the PSA have decided to make Baguio and Benguet a home base for their events, and with the other mystical mountains and great rivers waiting to be explored.

Because the popularity of sports adventure is growing fast in the Cordillera, the DOT and its partners from the private sector must carefully chart a protocol on how to balance the positive economic benefits of tourism as well as its negative impact on nature, culture, and to the host communities in the northern highlands.

Other news
:: Into the caves of Balbalan
:: EPL, a La Cordillera
:: A peek to Cordillera homes turned tourist sites
:: Pollution endangers Chico River rafting
:: Making Baguio a tourist destination for children
:: Visit Mountain Province this 2015
:: Baguio City: A fun learning educational hub
:: Elevating homestays in CAR to meet ASEAN standards
:: Tourism in BLISTT: What matters most?
:: Mountain Hopping in Benguet

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